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Metamorphoses of Science Fiction: On the Poetics and History of a Literary Genre

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Metamorphoses of Science Fiction is the origin point for decades of literary and theoretical criticism of science fiction and related genres. Darko Suvin's paradigm-setting definition of SF as "the literature of cognitive estrangement" established a robust theory of the genre that continues to spark fierce debate, as well as inspiring myriad intellectual descendants and di Metamorphoses of Science Fiction is the origin point for decades of literary and theoretical criticism of science fiction and related genres. Darko Suvin's paradigm-setting definition of SF as "the literature of cognitive estrangement" established a robust theory of the genre that continues to spark fierce debate, as well as inspiring myriad intellectual descendants and disciples. Suvin's centuries-spanning history of the genre links SF to a long tradition of utopian and satirical literatures crying out for a better world than this one, showing how SF and the imagination of utopia are now forever intertwined.


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Metamorphoses of Science Fiction is the origin point for decades of literary and theoretical criticism of science fiction and related genres. Darko Suvin's paradigm-setting definition of SF as "the literature of cognitive estrangement" established a robust theory of the genre that continues to spark fierce debate, as well as inspiring myriad intellectual descendants and di Metamorphoses of Science Fiction is the origin point for decades of literary and theoretical criticism of science fiction and related genres. Darko Suvin's paradigm-setting definition of SF as "the literature of cognitive estrangement" established a robust theory of the genre that continues to spark fierce debate, as well as inspiring myriad intellectual descendants and disciples. Suvin's centuries-spanning history of the genre links SF to a long tradition of utopian and satirical literatures crying out for a better world than this one, showing how SF and the imagination of utopia are now forever intertwined.

30 review for Metamorphoses of Science Fiction: On the Poetics and History of a Literary Genre

  1. 5 out of 5

    Simona B

    It would be hard to overestimate the influence that this book has had on SF criticism. It contains the pioneering formulations of the novum and of the notion of cognitive estrangement, which, for all the revisions and objections that they have received, remain two of the most useful additions to the SF critic's toolbox. Certainly an essential read for whoever wishes to dip their toes in the magical world of SF as it is discussed in academia. It would be hard to overestimate the influence that this book has had on SF criticism. It contains the pioneering formulations of the novum and of the notion of cognitive estrangement, which, for all the revisions and objections that they have received, remain two of the most useful additions to the SF critic's toolbox. Certainly an essential read for whoever wishes to dip their toes in the magical world of SF as it is discussed in academia.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Skrivena stranica

    Korisno, svakako pročitajte ako se bavite temom znanstvene fantastike i fantastičnog.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Katie Bayford

    Truly brilliant. Famous within the field for its concept of cognitive estrangement and novum, this is a highly intelligent and beautifully written piece of work. Metamorphoses of Science Fiction easily cements Suvin's place in the tradition of science fiction critique, building upon Eliot, Lukacs, Auerbach, Bloch, and Brecht and inspiring Jameson and Moylan. I might hope to join them! Truly brilliant. Famous within the field for its concept of cognitive estrangement and novum, this is a highly intelligent and beautifully written piece of work. Metamorphoses of Science Fiction easily cements Suvin's place in the tradition of science fiction critique, building upon Eliot, Lukacs, Auerbach, Bloch, and Brecht and inspiring Jameson and Moylan. I might hope to join them!

  4. 4 out of 5

    Pedro

    If you ever want to understand science fiction or swim in the sea of literary criticism regarding this genre I'd say this is the starting point. It is no wonder authors such as Fredric Jameson have said that the field of science fiction studies is divided in pre and post-Suvin. His idea of cognitive estrangement helps us understand the difference between its "cousins" (such as fantasy fiction and utopian fiction) and the validity of the genre as a cultural form dedicated to deal with the modern If you ever want to understand science fiction or swim in the sea of literary criticism regarding this genre I'd say this is the starting point. It is no wonder authors such as Fredric Jameson have said that the field of science fiction studies is divided in pre and post-Suvin. His idea of cognitive estrangement helps us understand the difference between its "cousins" (such as fantasy fiction and utopian fiction) and the validity of the genre as a cultural form dedicated to deal with the modern anxieties.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Vatroslav Herceg

    Profil Zagreb, 2010. Kul knjiga. Suvin je jezično jako razigran. Stil mu je živahan, agilan i kreativan. Dosta je razumljiv, piše poput Žižeka ili, recimo, Fukuyame, očigledno je da mu je SF njegova simpatija. ;) Ova knjiga je napisana izvorno na engleskom jeziku. Hrvatski prijevod ima par grešaka, vjerojatno tipfelera, kao na primjer sljedeće; "sa iskustvima". Njeni dobrže. I znam da se po pravopisu, našem, prvi apostrof treba pisati dolje, no meni je to prejeftino. Moji kratkosvrti na ovoj društve Profil Zagreb, 2010. Kul knjiga. Suvin je jezično jako razigran. Stil mu je živahan, agilan i kreativan. Dosta je razumljiv, piše poput Žižeka ili, recimo, Fukuyame, očigledno je da mu je SF njegova simpatija. ;) Ova knjiga je napisana izvorno na engleskom jeziku. Hrvatski prijevod ima par grešaka, vjerojatno tipfelera, kao na primjer sljedeće; "sa iskustvima". Njeni dobrže. I znam da se po pravopisu, našem, prvi apostrof treba pisati dolje, no meni je to prejeftino. Moji kratkosvrti na ovoj društvenoj mreži slijede moj vlastiti ilirski pravopis. Neću iznositi teorijski sadržaj knjige. Samo bih napomenuo da Suvin baca, u ovom štivu, jako puno novovjekovnih preteča SF-a koji se čine da jako puno obećavaju, ali baš jako. To mi je jebeno. Kada pročitam jednu knjigu, preko nje mogu čitati još dvadeset. Ovo je jedna od takvih knjiga. Pa-pa!

  6. 4 out of 5

    boocia

    (spoilers about Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)) this book was supremely helpful in building a framework for thinking about SF, much in the way being thrown blindfolded into a body of water and figuring out if it is a pond or a pool via context clues is helpful in building a framework for thinking about bodies of water. i have no idea what i just drank, but it's certainly having some sort of effect on m'brain. suvin doesn't contextualize the works he references and analyzes, so if you have (spoilers about Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)) this book was supremely helpful in building a framework for thinking about SF, much in the way being thrown blindfolded into a body of water and figuring out if it is a pond or a pool via context clues is helpful in building a framework for thinking about bodies of water. i have no idea what i just drank, but it's certainly having some sort of effect on m'brain. suvin doesn't contextualize the works he references and analyzes, so if you haven't read or even heard of some the works this can be a very challenging book. no harm in that; clearly a man who wrote this for himself and his academic peers, so. I think my issues comprehending this book is also, frankly, that Suvin's methodology is a little wanting in a way i can't quite put my finger on. I guess he just says shit, or his anecdotal evidences don't resonate beyond the specific, or something. key takeaways: - more context for what 'cognitive' means when suvin talks about science fiction being the literature of cognitive estrangement! big breakthrough for me. he explicitly says cognition isn't scientific facts, but a scientific method applied to consuming SF. "the presence of scientific cognition as the sign of a method identical to that of a modern philosophy of science", "SF both requires and allows" ... "a methodically systematic cognition". I'm taking this to mean dream-logic is valid, as long as it is consistent, if it is 'hardy' enough. I can see why later in his career he caves about whether fantasy can be SF. i can see why he has the instinct to draw this hard line. I will say that a measure of 'sufficient' cognitiveness feels very personal (as per delaney's claim that the reader's memory/personal experiences are the real benchmark here), contingent on a reader's background, contemporary science, etc. - "utopianism" as a measuring tape of how 'successful' SF is - does it criticize existing social systems? make readers see it in a new light, and consider how it could be different than how it is (more socialist?)? i love how confidently suvin applies this metric which effectively downgrades basically every piece of science fiction written during the libertarian Golden Age 'cause their politics are so bad it renders them 'unsuccessful'. Suck my nuts, Heinlein. - suvin is hysterically confident and pompous about his takes, and draws a hard line. he doesn't fully address a piece on its own terms, and instead sees an ideal SF piece that perfectly utilizes novum and cognition to estrange, superimposed onto the actual, imperfect, piece. for example, instead of working *with* the film to figure out how Ghidora being an alien from space and therefore an 'unnatural' bad guy fits into "Godzilla: King of the Monster"'s larger themes of how something destructive and inhuman can and should be accepted into the natural order, Suvin would probably write it off as a weakness of the film, a failure of "scientific" consistency in the messaging. his position to do this is very historical; he mentions tsarist censors, and american chauvinism, and technocratic propaganda, as things that can warp an author's utopian and SF visions. i like this approach, probably too much. - suvin is very focused on the effect of estrangement being to promote reflection, and criticism, of existing power structures, etc. i think delaney's criticism that suvin is too focused on the reflective aspect, neglecting how estrangement points to potentialities that are ahead, rings a little true here. like, yes, Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) is supposed to make you reflect on how humans relate to nature (exploiting it, hurting it), but it also importantly points to a different relationship, one of co-existence and cooperation (if you nurture godzilla, godzilla nurtures you). however, suvin has other essays about 'the horizon' that science fiction can hearken towards that, i think, expounds on the future aspect of SF/estrangement. - i lost my ABSOLUTE SHIT about "The ... Wellsian structure of science fiction is a mutation of scientific into aesthetic cognition". His example of this is The Time Machine, an inversion of the Social Darwinism everyone around Wells was hot about at the time. Social Darwinism: upper class rightfully rules over and predates on the lower class. Time Machine: Morlocks (lower) eat Eloi (upper). Social Darwinism: a constant evolution upwards. Time Machine: a devolution towards the humanless heat death of the universe. It's like a metaphor, but not exactly, right? Not all SF hangs onto this technique, but this observation feels resonant to both Suvin and Delaney's observations that the cognitive estranging component of SF makes it more similar to poetry than to fantasy, in this absolutely breathtaking way. How many poems have you read that pull at some 'science' fact and unspool it into something more generalized, personal, sociological? Scientific theories and social-psychological paradigms are more interlinked than science bros let on and suvin is just a cool validation of this instinct poets have to aestheticize scientific frameworks and i am so here for it. The novum becomes clearer in relation to the 'Wellsian' model; it is a refraction of existing science in our world that reorganizes the entire science fiction world. don't read this book, but at least let me babble incoherently to you about it.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Andrea

    Izvrstan pregled povijesti SF-a i perspektiva žanra koja mi je poprilično bliska. Jedino je povremeno teško prohodna kad se radi o manje poznatim djelima.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Kelley

    First off, if you enjoyed Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell, you'll probably like this book too. Suvin begins the critique by separating Science Fiction from other genres, especially myth. He then proceeds to outline how SF literature has evolved from Utopia settings, to including journeys, to focusing on more social issues. This is a very interesting read for anyone well-versed in sci-fi, although I would recommend having some experience with both SF classics and modern lit before d First off, if you enjoyed Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell, you'll probably like this book too. Suvin begins the critique by separating Science Fiction from other genres, especially myth. He then proceeds to outline how SF literature has evolved from Utopia settings, to including journeys, to focusing on more social issues. This is a very interesting read for anyone well-versed in sci-fi, although I would recommend having some experience with both SF classics and modern lit before delving in. As a critique of the genre, this book does deserve more stars... unfortunately I reserve my high-star ratings for books of creativity, not books that describe someone else's. :)

  9. 4 out of 5

    mimosa maoist

    A bit stageist about the ideology of SF, maybe even "hard SF chauvinist," but it's compellingly written. A bit stageist about the ideology of SF, maybe even "hard SF chauvinist," but it's compellingly written.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    i really enjoyed this book. i put off reading it for a while because i worried about it being too "dense" or whatever, but i found suvin's writing style extremely clear, readable, and interesting, and this book was really enjoyable to read because of that. the first four chapters are an overview of suvin's argument for a definition of science fiction (SF) as "a literary genre whose necessary and sufficient conditions are the presence and interaction of estrangement and cognition, and whose main i really enjoyed this book. i put off reading it for a while because i worried about it being too "dense" or whatever, but i found suvin's writing style extremely clear, readable, and interesting, and this book was really enjoyable to read because of that. the first four chapters are an overview of suvin's argument for a definition of science fiction (SF) as "a literary genre whose necessary and sufficient conditions are the presence and interaction of estrangement and cognition, and whose main formal device is an imaginative framework alternative to the author’s empirical environment" (what a mouthful). to put it (maybe) more simply: SF is a genre marked by the narrative domination of a "novum" (novel idea/new thing) validated by cognitive logic (reductively: science, incuding physics and biology but also sociology, anthropology, linguistics, and other "soft" sciences) whose presence determines the course of the story and in doing so estranges the author/reader from their own society by comparison to this alternative society. suvin discusses what SF is not (fantasy, folktale, fairytale, space operas, etc.) and what earlier genres/forms contributed to SF (especially utopian stories, satire, and anticipations). the rest of the book is a historical overview of western SF literature through the world wars, which i found informative and highly entertaining, the analysis sharp and unflinching as it discussed Swift, More, Shelley, Wells, Capek, and tons of others. suvin is widely regarded as the landmark theorist of SF literary theory, with the field often being divided colloquially into "pre-" and "post-suvin." as a lover & wannabe writer of SF, i rly loved this book and resonated with its argument that SF is the genre best-situated to conceptualize alternative worlds/realities and possible futures--that it is a genre imbued with ethico-political liberation; an escape from constrictive old norms into a different and alternative timestream; a device for historical estrangement, imagination, and dealienation. all social justice organizing is, after all, science fiction; and all significant SF is a commentary or dialogue in some form on our current society.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Asita

    I would be an interesting read if you've read the works mentioned. I would be an interesting read if you've read the works mentioned.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Nicholas Bobbitt

    I really don't care for academic analyses of SF. They rarely if ever understand how to study it from readers' perspectives. I really don't care for academic analyses of SF. They rarely if ever understand how to study it from readers' perspectives.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Vasile

    science fiction theory - novum

  14. 5 out of 5

    Hollie

  15. 4 out of 5

    Daneel Lynn

  16. 5 out of 5

    Marco Mancera

  17. 4 out of 5

    Laura Cáceres

  18. 4 out of 5

    Guangyi Li

  19. 5 out of 5

    Charul Palmer-Patel

  20. 4 out of 5

    Zeynep

  21. 4 out of 5

    Aleksandra

  22. 5 out of 5

    Michael

  23. 5 out of 5

    Gregg Wingo

  24. 5 out of 5

    Christy

  25. 5 out of 5

    Luca Signorelli

  26. 4 out of 5

    Shaun Duke

  27. 4 out of 5

    Dakkedisses

  28. 4 out of 5

    Briana Malmstrom

  29. 5 out of 5

    OTIS

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jules Turner

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